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First Day in Chicago

November 14, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

We flew United to Chicago today. At SeaTac’s North Terminal, there were at least 2 dozen security people milling around while we were waiting to board. Some were TSA staff, some were Homeland Security Police. We have no idea what they were doing. Passengers waiting to board were pulled aside for special additional screening, including thorough searches of their carry-ons and wanding of their bodies. One was a tall, young man with a shaved ahead; another a fortyish woman who did not look threatening in any imaginable sense. We went down the jetway with her and she was stunned, having seen nothing like that earlier this week flying through National in DC.

Then we were off, on time all the way. We got into O’Hare 15 minutes early, but between taxiing and waiting for someone to bring the jetway up to the airplane door, we got off about on time. Highlights of the flight: A flight attendant having no idea what Wall-E is and thinking it was a bust of a movie. (When she read the cast to us over the PA, she paused a few seconds and then bemusedly read “featuring a [long pause here] Pixar robot,” pronouncing Pixar to rhyme with fixer. The guy the row ahead of me who kept wanting two shots of Jack and kept being told that she could only sell him one at a time. It didn’t keep him from regularly asking for two. The guy next to him, directly in front of me, who put his seat down as soon as we took off, leaving me no space for the entire flight. United’s audio channel 9, its great gift to flyers. I love listening to air traffic control, knowing what elevation we’re being given directions to move to, and what heading. And knowing we’re cleared to land.

The taxi ride to our hotel took about an hour, in never-quite-stopped but haltingly slow traffic. Our driver spent most of the time talking Arabic on the phone. The City of Chicago statement on the back of the front seat told us our rights and responsibilities. Among our rights — deciding whether to have heat or AC on, having the radio off if we wished, having a driver drive without being on his phone. I chose not to exercise my rights. He had NPR’s All Things Considered on until the phone call came in. Then he lowered it and we couldn’t hear it anymore.

We arrived at the Fairmont Chicago around 6:45, went up to our room on the 16th floor, one of the four Fairmont Gold floors. Being on a gold floor at a Fairmont means you pay extra and then get to use the lounge — breakfast, evening hors d’ouevres, dessert later in the evening, that sort of thing. The lounge has someone on duty who doubles as your gold floor concierge. Is it worth it? Maybe not. The hotel has over 30 floors. Maybe we’d be higher if we didn’t choose gold. But we did. And now of course we have to get our money’s worth. After dropping our bags and getting oriented, checking out the view south over Grant Park (between two neighboring buildings just south), with the Field Museum in the distance, we went down one flight of stairs to the lounge. Hors d’ouevres were being served until 8:00, so we weren’t too late. And there are lots of sitting areas, either easy chairs with little coffee tables or dining table type arrangements at the windows, with a table and four chairs. We sat at a table, with views both south to Grant Park and east, with glimpses of Lake Shore Park, Lake Michigan, and the Navy Pier. On our way out, the concierge gave us some recommendations for casual Italian restaurants in the neighborhood.

Shortly after, we headed out, walked north two blocks to Wacker Drive, and headed west along the drive and the river to Michigan Avenue, with the great view to the north, across the bridge, to the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower. Then we continued west another block, along Wacker, to Bella Bacino’s, one of the recommended restaurants. It was great. Small, intimate, good waiter.

The menu has been updated, so the one at the website doesn’t show all the options. We had a cream of potato soup to start. Gail had the risotto with peas, asparagus, chicken, tomato. Great. I had the capellini with chicken and green beans, which also had sausage, garlic, pepper, maybe some other things. Also great. Lots of good flavor, a thoughtful and attentive waiter, good wine (by the glass) suggestions for the two dishes. We couldn’t have been happier.

After dinner, we walked south on Michigan for a few blocks, then turned east and returned to the hotel. We unpacked, caught up on some things on the computer, then went down to the lounge one more time to see what dessert looked like. Little raspberry tarts and really little chocolate cupcakes. Plus the two waters they also had out earlier, a cucumber water and a lemon and mint water. We tried the mini desserts, had water, enjoyed the view one more time, and headed up.

It’s been a pleasant evening in terms of weather, in the 40s. Maybe it was high 40s when we got in. Low 40s now. But a cold front will be coming through soon and tomorrow it may not get out of the 30s. The reports have been fluctuating for days, high 30s or maybe just 40. But the reports always predict a chance of snow showers through noon or early afternoon tomorrow. No real accumulations. And rain if not snow. We hope to walk around the area, maybe see Barack if he’s hanging out at the transition office, go to the Art Institute. And at night we will see Lang Lang at Symphony Center. I had hoped to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who do have a subscription concert this weekend, but they are vacating tomorrow evening to make room for the special event titled Lang Lang and Friends: Dragon Songs.

That’s the news so far. One last thought. Coming up to our room initially this evening, looking out the window, seeing Grant Park just to the south, we couldn’t help picturing the scene ten nights ago. Being here then would have been something.

Categories: Food, Travel
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